The blessing of the new fire at the Easter Vigil is always a cause of comment. Will it be big enough to be of symbolic worth? Who dreamt up this practice anyway? What happens if it rains? What is the best method of transferring light to the Paschal Candle? We can search the scriptures and there are lots of references to fire…often the purpose is to cleanse the earth. After Pentecost, there is another meaning associated with “tongues of fire”.
Popular culture is full of stories about the discovery of man-made fire. There were plenty of fires to greet the arrival of human beings. Bush fires and volcanoes were present to challenge the humans and it took many generations for us to master the setting of fire, the carrying of fire, and we have not yet mastered the art of putting fires out.
The once-a-year physical fire in the Church’s Liturgy is deliberately the first act at the Easter Vigil and it ushers in a vision for the human race of renewal and hope. For the Parisians, the Notre Dame fire in Holy Week will be a cause célèbre. It may even be a call to remember their heritage. The beliefs that impelled their ancestors to build a structure that remained a gigantic symbol of ‘another way’, full of beauty, beauty that not only inspired the locals, but encouraged other communities to do likewise and transform concepts of worship for centuries.
Even in its devastated state, it still speaks and calls and reminds us all of ‘that other way’.
Our Holy Week is now vastly different to that of former years. For many, simply a holiday; for others, a day to be entertained. Some voices this year were heard longing for a day of rest and peace. Perhaps for our Church, reflecting upon the New Fire might give each of us a desire to remind all of ‘the other way’.
It won’t be easy, but then it was not easy to build Notre Dame. Undeterred, and without hydraulics, power tools and electricity, we are the beneficiaries of their faith.
Maybe it is now our time to build new Cathedrals, to usher in a new era of faith in the truth of the resurrection.
Happy and Holy Easter, Alleluia, Alleluia!